App Growth Talks: Singular’s John Koetsier on the Top Ad Networks

In this episode of App Growth Talks, we had the pleasure of interviewing John Koetsier, VP of Insights at Singular.

John Koetsier, VP Insights at Singular

John Koetsier, an entrepreneur, analyst, and writer, was the driving force behind Singular’s latest report, ROI Index 2024. Based on real campaign performance metrics gathered by the mobile measurement partner, expressed in billions of clicks, installs, and trillions of impressions, it offers a comprehensive ranking of ad networks that deliver the best results and ROI.

Lina Danilchik, Content Team Lead at SplitMetrics

Lina Danilchik, Marketing & Communications Lead at SplitMetrics, an experienced writer in the mobile app industry and the host of App Growth Talks, inquired John about his take on the ad network industry, artificial intelligence, tips for small & growing mobile businesses, developing apps… and many other topics. 

SplitMetrics and Singular are established partners. We decided to use this opportunity to discuss the report’s findings and how businesses can use them to grow their apps.

Watch the full episode of App Growth Talks on YouTube:

If you’re in the mood for reading, below’s a full interview transcript. Enjoy! Also, don’t forget to download the ROI Index 2024:

Singular's ROI Index 2024 cover, promo

How do you optimize your UA channel mix for maximum ROI? 🚀 Find out by reading the freshest ROI Index 2024 report by Singular. Inside, you’ll learn:

  • Which ad networks are driving the highest ROI?
  • Which ad networks are driving the highest retention?
  • What are the key storylines in mobile ad tech for 2024?

The report offers a detailed breakdown of data for genres, regions, and systems. It has countless insights & rankings based on hard data: billions of clicks, trillions of impressions, and billions of installs.

Download the full report from Singular’s website.

Introducing John Koetsier, VP of Insights at Singular

Lina Danilchik, SplitMetrics

Hello and welcome to the latest episode of App Growth Talks, a series of interviews with experts on user acquisition, mobile marketing, and app growth. I’m thrilled to introduce my guest for today, John Koetsier, a well-known thought leader in the mobile industry, and I would even say even beyond it. John is an entrepreneur, founder, journalist, analyst, and writer, and it’s not even the end of the list. John has written for the biggest media: Forbes, Huffington Post, and VentureBeat. I also know that John is writing a book (spoiler 😀). Also, he’s hosting some meaningful podcasts. For example, Growth Masterminds and TechFirst. John is also VP of Insights at Singular. John, hello and welcome. It’s a great honor. Thank you so much for joining me for App Growth Talks today.

First, I wanted to ask you about your rich, cool professional background and expertise. You successfully worked with both web and mobile, but now you are mostly actively engaged in the mobile apps business. So my question is simple: why have you focused on the mobile industry?

John Koetsier, Singular

Well, it was a total accident and actually a pretty interesting one. My background is pretty varied with lots of different things – I guess that’s total professional ADHD or something like that. I was a full-time journalist. I started wanting to build things after having built apps and websites. Before becoming a full-time journalist, I built a research division for VentureBeat, VB Insights. It was focused on mar-tech because that was during this sort of great pre-Cambrian expansion of the early 2010s when you saw these massive charts that it was 500 companies, then it was 1000, then it was 2000, then it was 4000. There was just this massive expansion of mar-tech and ad tech. I left to start my own company. I started consulting with TUNE, which was the first MMP way back in the day. I moved to Singular a few years after that (they’re my anchor client). I have some other clients as well. I still do a bunch of consulting for a bunch of clients, and I still write at Forbes because I can’t not write. So that’s a summary of how I got into ad tech, specifically mobile.

Singular’s ROI Index Report for 2024

Lina

Today I wanted to discuss the recently released ROI Index report. Before we start and move on to the details and findings, I wanted to ask you for a very short introduction for those who probably don’t know about it. What does the report cover?

John

Singular’s ROI index attempts to find the best mobile ad networks. It’s based on Singular’s view of the ad tech ecosystem. So we’re talking tens of billions of dollars, billions and billions of clicks, and trillions of impressions. It’s large, it’s not 100% right, so you’ll always have certain lenses through which you see ad tech and mobile, but it’s pretty good. The goal is to give mobile marketers just a few clues about some networks that they may check out and to highlight some systemic changes in the ecosystem over time.

The top ad networks on iOS, in terms of SKAN performance and ROI

Lina

The report covers the leading networks that drive the most spend, bring in the most conversions, and can eventually bring the highest ROAS. So, let’s move on to that. The top ad networks in terms of SKAN performance and ROI on iOS include Google Ads, AppLovin, and IronSource. The latter was recently acquired by Unity, which also broke into the top five. So, could you please comment on that?

John

In the report, I found what I dubbed the Golden Six. The Golden Six are the top ad networks that hit every category in the ROI index, where we look at different verticals, at different geos, at the major platforms – and the Golden Six hit them all.

The Golden Six are the top ad networks of the Singular’s ROI Index, ranked in every single Singular ROI Index category, an impressive achievement that speaks to global scale and universal vertical penetration. These networks are Google Ads, AppLovin, IronSource, Meta Ads, Moloco and TikTok for Business.

So of course you’ve got Google, and you’ve got meta. It’s kind of a given. They’re massive, they’re global, they’re going to hit everything. We had Moloco, which was a total shock. It hit every single category. We’ll talk about that later. I think we had TikTok in there. It’s a new giant; it’s just coming into its own, obviously, on a massive global scale and with lots of issues, like being banned in India. I guess that was about a year ago now. Lots of talk in the US now, just recently accelerating that it’ll need to be sold or something like that to still be available there. But it’s huge, massive, building its ad tech and advertiser tools, and coming into its own. But you asked specifically about Iron Source and Unity.

Iron Source is super interesting. It’s a whole platform: it’s got user acquisition, monetization, and level pay mediation. It’s got Supersonic, which is app publishing owned inventory. So, it’s a mini-walled garden kind of thing. All the inventory that they have internally gives them tremendous insight on all different sides of the acquisition and monetization publishing space. So it’s really interesting.

Unity, of course, bought them – you mentioned that it’s got to be something like a year ago now. They had an “ads” product and started using Ironsource as a mediation platform. You’ve also got Aura Ironsource, which is an on-device sort of content-ads-monetization play for telcos. It’s similar to what Mobi does for telcos, called Glance. There’s even more opportunity here if they can unlock some kind of a connection between Unity as a development platform for 50% of the planet’s games and Ironsource as this massive monetization-publishing-marketing platform. That’s hard to do. Of course, there’s not a clear path to making that happen. And Unity didn’t do itself any favors with the pricing shock that it had in 2023. But if they could pull off something there, they could do something pretty interesting, I think.

Apple Search Ads

Lina

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and even analytics. You mentioned TikTok, for now, it’s a really promising platform, but I wanted to discuss Apple Search Ads. While it’s not directly linked to SKAN, since it uses its API, we cannot disregard it since this is a huge user acquisition platform and I know it’s covered in the report as well. Could you please share Singular data on how this channel performed over the year? What’s notable about Apple Search Ads?

John

Apple Search Ads is a “top-three” ad network for mobile user acquisition. That’s pretty amazing considering it’s only on iOS—and Android has 70% of the global market share, right? So that’s pretty impressive. They increased the share of spend for Singular clients by 18% last year, and 19% more Singular clients added Apple Search Ads over the past year as well.

There are some interesting things in the data. There was a fairly large drop over the last few months. It’s probably a blip, but it’s really hard to say. And it is interesting. You mentioned that Apple Search Ads doesn’t use SKAN; it uses AdServices attribution API. Apple has a position that it’s first-party data, it’s different. That’s very, very true. On the other hand, as a leader in the mobile space, you can see some arguments that Apple Search Ads should use SKAN as well.

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Lina

Last week of March, Apple added many more data points to their API for Apple Search Ads. They also enriched their reports and added data on conversions, downloads, and user experience. What do you think about those changes?

John

I think it’s huge. I think it’s important. Look, data is scarce in the privacy era, right? You’ve got to find all the privacy-safe data you can and you’ve got to use all the privacy-safe data you can. I think that’s very valuable. There are insights you can derive from there that are not the same as what you could get with IDFA or what you can get with GAD still to this day. But they’re important, they’re relevant. Interestingly, Singular is doing something with similar data like that. And you’re going to hear some announcements about that in the future.

Google Ads

In the report, you mentioned some of the top six greatest ad networks. I noticed that Google Ads tops the list for almost all regions for both gaming and non-gaming categories. I am so sorry for the silly question, but is Google Ads “King” or is it not that simple?

John

The answer is yes to both those questions, whether it’s king or whether it’s not that simple. Google is king. It’s the largest, it’s global, it’s everywhere, it has inventory and everything. On the other hand, it doesn’t always have the best ROI, and it can take significant scale in terms of dollars to train.

UAC or Universal App Campaigns doesn’t reveal all insights, although it shows more than you would think. You can get more insights for your ad creatives. Even when UAC is sort of composing those in real-time for different campaigns and testing, there are some insights that you can get and that are available in the Singular dashboard. It’s massive. It’s incredible. It is “the King’. But there are other options, and there are other good places to invest your marketing dollars.

Moloco, the breakthrough of the year (with AI)

Lina

You mentioned Moloco, who just like Singular are our partner. The report calls it the breakthrough of the year. How did Moloco get there? How has it happened? What do you think?

John

You will have to ask them how they made that happen, but I can share what I can see from the outside. I mean, the first thing is, what the heck 😀? Moloco is comparatively tiny, to Google, Meta, or even Ironsource or AppLovin. So, it’s a shocker to see that it hit every single regional, vertical, and OS category in the ROI Index. That’s very impressive. It doesn’t have some of the advantages that its competitors have. It’s not a walled garden like Meta. It’s not a massive search engine like Google. It’s not a big viral hit like TikTok that just sucks up all this mass of user time. It’s not a massive conglomerate like AppLovin or IronSource. In a sense, it could provide some hope to other ad networks because, in a way, it’s an old-school ad network. It’s hitting the open Internet. It’s a DSP out there looking for a good supply. So, you know, others might be able to do that too. I talked to Francesco Renzo, the VP at Moloco, on Growth Masterminds, the podcast I host for Singular. That was late in 2023. They focus on AI. They think AI is their core differentiator. They’ve done a very good job.

Reddit and native ads

Lina

All of us would like to be Moloco in this sense ;) You mentioned AI, I also have a question about that, but first, let’s talk about Reddit. Reddit is back in the ROI Index. Is it effective to run ads on such a specific platform? For me, it looks like its native ads might work, but what do you think about that?

John

I think you’re 100% correct, and it’s really interesting. I recently wrote a blog post for Singular on Reddit because they’re IPO-ing, which means they have to release a massive amount of information – I found seventeen different bits and pieces relevant for marketers and growth marketers to learn about their plans. But in terms of what we’re seeing right now, I think it is an interesting platform. It sucks up a huge amount of time. People on it spend hours there daily.

Reddit needs a very “Reddit” approach. It’s not just an ad network. It’s not a platform like Facebook. It’s very differentiated by its subreddits. I’ve seen it work very well. You’re right, it needs a native approach and not a heavy sales approach. It needs the opposite of what you’d see on network television, something more backhanded, like “Hey, my boss told me to make a marketing campaign. So this is what I came up with”. This transparent approach, done right, in the right subreddits, I’ve seen it work very well. I’ve also seen it fail massively. Now, Reddit is not a must-have at this point, but it might grow into one.

But it’s a very interesting platform for specific apps that align with active subreddits. I recently interviewed All Trails CEO about how they became the App of the Year in 2023 and I think that if you’re passionate about something (like hiking) – there are subreddits about that. You can create content that feels normal, natural, and a part of that ecosystem. I think that’s huge.

I saw on Reddit’s IPO prospectus that they are looking at ways to insert ads into comment threads. That’s where people spend 80-90% of their time on Reddit. On Reddit, you have topics that flow into your feed, and you click on them to comment or see what others have commented. I would say that 90% of the value of Reddit (maybe more) is actually in those comments, and they have been entirely ad-free to this point. It’s amazing. It’s incredible because that’s the bulk of their inventory, and they haven’t monetized it. Maybe that’s why they’ve never actually turned a profit in their 13 or 15-year history. But they’re going to do that. They have to do that because when they make an IPO, they want it to be a positive one. They want a bump in the share price on day one, day 30, and day 90. So I think there’s a real opportunity there for marketers and of course, for Reddit themselves.

Artificial Intelligence

Lina

What do you think about AI? I saw that you cover this topic, but what’s your personal take on that?

John

Yeah, I use AI every day… and so do you 🙂. AI is there even when it’s invisible to you because Google’s doing it on your behalf, Facebook is doing it on your behalf, and so on. Pretty much everybody with a smartphone is using AI every day, whether they know it or not.

I’m definitely interested in AI, I just attended the Beneficial AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) conference in Panama City, which was amazing (AGI is when AI becomes as smart or smarter than a human and then goes really fast).

I’m a subscriber to Chat GPT, and GPT4 is pretty cool. Looking forward to GPT5. I use Stable Diffusion. It’s really neat, especially for some art for my podcast, that sort of thing. I think it is a massive benefit and a massive time saver in some cases, but you cannot just accept what it gives you. I’m talking about using GPT four for data analysis. I used it for some of the ROI Index content, and I had to double-check everything because it doesn’t always understand things in the way that you think it’ll understand things, and sometimes it’ll make stuff up. So you have to have quality control. You have to check and see if it’s inventing stuff. If you do that and use it well, AI can be a great aid. I look forward to it being amazing in the future.

I think the future, especially for big platforms like Meta, Google, TikTok, Snapchat, or Reddit, is to use the data they have about us, which is all first-party data to them. Then, take the data that advertisers and marketers are coming in with saying “Hey, we want this type of person, for this type of experience, for this type of monetization, these types of events.”. Then, look at those two data sets to create unique on-the-spot ads generated by AI in real time for you, me, and others. That will make it harder for ad networks in the open ecosystem to compete because they don’t have that mass of first-party data.

So I think we’re heading to some interesting times.

Lina

Yes, we also launched a report on AI for mobile marketing. Chat GPT created tables and other things for us, but you need to check everything because it makes things up and invents things. I recently noticed that sometimes, the results it delivers become worse. Probably I’m mistaken, but when it just emerged, this was, “Wow.” – I don’t want to make it seem like a human, but “it” tried harder.

App Growth Talks: Singular’s John Koetsier on the Top Ad Networks

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John

You might be right, you might be wrong, but you’re not the only one who’s had the same feeling. And I don’t know, it’s an open question whether some of that lack of quality or deteriorating quality is maybe because they’re trying to fix the delusions, fix the hallucinations, or they’re trying to ensure that it doesn’t say things that are controversial or harmful, or if it’s just that we got so used to this. We’ve kind of habituated to it and now, oh, well, yeah, okay. Of course, it does magic. Why wouldn’t it? It’s done magic for me 100 times. And then if it fails to do magic, maybe we’re not so excited. I’m not sure, it’s an interesting question.

Top 5 most exciting technologies & innovations

Lina

Yes, people get used to something very quickly, and I liked your example about advertising, because personalization is key for now, and it will be for a long time, taking the personal user data into account. So, yeah, let’s see where it all leads – the industry and all of us in particular. But apart from AI, are there any exciting new technologies or innovations in the mobile industry in particular at the forefront for now?

John

Yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff that I’m excited about, and it’s not all developing at the same speed, but here are a few I’m thinking about.

One is multiple app stores, which will be the case in the future. It’s already the case on Android. If you look at it globally – in China, India, and other places. You’re going to see it on iOS as well. So that’s an interesting thing, and we’ll see how it evolves. It will take some years, legislation, and lawsuits, but eventually, we will have more ways to get software on these devices.

The second thing that I’m interested in is multiplatform experiences. That’s an app or game that is available in multiple places, whether that’s mobile, the web, or maybe CTV or a console. That’s interesting for a bunch of different reasons. If you’re providing that service, you want to be where people are. That’s cool, that’s great – I can get my app where I want it. I want it on the big screen on the wall, the small screen in my hand, and my desktop. Wherever I want it, I can have it. That’s important. That’s good. That’s customer service. That’s just fulfilling your brand promise wherever you can. The second part of that is payments, or where you want to take them to avoid paying 30% to Google or Apple. So if you’re on the open web, you can take payments for subscriptions or in-app purchases. So, I think that’s why we’re seeing a massive expansion in multi-platform experiences.

The third thing is SKAN, and the fourth is the Privacy Sandbox. I don’t know if it’s exciting and it’s hard to say how much of an innovation it is, but it’s a lot of innovation in terms of privacy. There are many challenges in terms of the ecosystem, the ad ecosystem, and marketers and what they do. These are things that are critical. They’re affecting the foundation of what user acquisition managers do, and we need to keep our eyes on them, and what innovations are happening within them. Privacy Sandbox is obviously out a little bit still coming. SKAN is here and it’s impacting us right now. The transition to SKAN 4 is kind of creaky and the wheels are squealing, it’s rusty. It’s not happening as quickly as we thought it might and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. All the big platforms are coming out with their own models of measurement, and they have incentives to make them the standard, the default versus something like SKAN that they don’t control and which might not privilege them. Eventually, we’ll get there and maybe we’ll get SKAN 5 and 6 and 7, and we’ll see how that goes.

The fifth thing would be the one that I’ve already talked about, which is ads for an audience of one, via generative AI. I think we’ll see that. I think that’s possible on a platform in your walled garden. I think that’s much harder to do on the open web, but it is possible with contextual data as well – time of day, region, context of the app, or the website that somebody’s on. So there are some possibilities there, but it’s not as powerful, it doesn’t have as much history or data.

John’s top 3 insights from the ROI Index 2024

Lina

Very insightful, very interesting. Thank you so much, John. I loved your example of SKAN 4, I really see it this way too, and I think most of our audience as well. So thank you so much, John. That was very interesting, and exciting. Wrapping up, I have two more questions. I don’t know which one I should start, so let’s get back to the report quickly. It is very insightful, it covers SKAN. Could you share, say – I don’t like these limitations – top three, or top five insights from the report?

John

First of all, we had 31 ad networks that were ranked. I think that’s the most ever. Some were not a surprise. Google and Meta are going to be there. Shocker. TikTok is going to be there. You’ve got some that are just going to be there. But it is interesting to see that the big networks are getting bigger in terms of their share of ownership, and that’s something that wasn’t necessarily the case for some of the major players a year and a half or a year ago. Meta had a hard time when ATT was introduced and SKAN came into being, but Meta’s figured it out now, and they’re growing, and Google is growing.

But the good thing is, another insight is there’s still room for the small ones. We’ve already talked about Moloco, APR, and a few others. There’s still room for the small networks that have an interesting insight at a different perspective that can get in there as a DSP, an exchange, whatever, and do something, provide some value that people aren’t seeing elsewhere. So, there are still opportunities.

Advice for SMB

Lina

Small and grown businesses are a big niche and they have to compete between themselves and they need to compete with bigger players. So it’s quite challenging. But Moloco is a great example, so you can have a breakthrough if you try hard. So being really a notable mobile economist and analyst, could you share advice with small businesses or growing businesses who are just starting in the mobile industry? What should they know, what should they pay attention to to succeed?

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John

It’s the hardest job in the world and it’s not really a job, it’s a lifestyle and it’s all-consuming. I’ve done it three or four times so I understand something of what those who are building small and growing mobile businesses are going through. The challenge is what to focus on, there’s everything to do, literally, everything needs to be done. You’ve got to identify the most critical things to work on and work on those. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time and you will not go forward.

One of those critical things is being relentless in making a great app, not accepting mediocrity, focusing on that product market fit, and making sure that it is something that provides real value to someone, to some niche, to some group. Once you’ve done that, and I think that a lot have made that and been there, I think you have to find some method of organic marketing to get a small cohort of early users. Many of these small and growing businesses can’t spend a lot on marketing. You’re paying what you can. Sometimes you have to take a salary yourself. You’re paying some engineers, you’re paying some people, and you have a small startup crew, so it’s hard. Find some method of organic marketing to get that small cohort of early users because without them you can’t know how your app actually really works until you see people using it – what they use, what they don’t use, what they’re excited about, what they don’t care about. Like that thing that you really love, that you think is the best thing ever that 99% of users totally ignore it, and the thing that you just threw in the app because Sally said “Let’s do that” is the thing that everybody’s using. So, that tells you where to pivot and where to adjust.

Then once you start getting to the top of your local maximum, the first hill, you’re starting to get some usage and traction, maybe even some revenue, prime the pump, and start marketing cautiously. You’re probably going to start with something around meta. You might add a few networks here or there. I think it’s really important that you have some amazing creativity in your ads. You’ve got to find some way of standing out. You’ve got to not look like every other ad out there, and that’s hard. Add some humor, add some fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t take your app too seriously. Sign up for a free MMP account with Singular. That’s totally free, doesn’t cost you a thing. Lets you know what’s working and what’s not working, what organic channels are working, what paid channels are working, and what campaigns are getting traction and influencing people to take action.

And then as you scale, you add more networks, you add more channels, and you level up your measurements as well. I have often found, as a journalist – try a million things. I write what I’m interested in and some things, *crickets*, nobody cares, nobody notices. But you try a million things and somehow the magic pixie dust of the Internet gets sprinkled around and something that you thought, oh, that was a throwaway, I spent like 30 minutes on that, boom, 3 million people read it, right, that sort of thing. And then when you see traction like that, follow. So those are some of my thoughts. And I wish everybody in that startup journey, that growing journey, the very best, and a lot of mental health and all that as well, because it is not easy.

Final words

Lina

Thank you so much. John, that was very interesting, very insightful, very relatable. I would say so because if an app is great, it can go viral. And sometimes mobile developers, I think can spend a month or so on enhancing a feature or making a button beautiful users just won’t notice that, so you may just launch it as it is. Roll out a new version and boom, it’s a total blast.

Thank you so much for your really valuable advice and tips on organic growth and creative advertising. I think everyone who is a young entrepreneur should write it down once we launch this App Growth Talks episode. Thank you so much.

You’ve shared multiple insights based on your expertise, hands-on experience, and your background at Singular and beyond. This is really awesome – thank you. You highlighted this ROI index report. We’ll add a link to it. Everyone who hasn’t seen this just yet needs to download it, and you should keep your finger on the pulse.

John

You’re very welcome. Lina, it was a real pleasure.

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Gabriel Kuriata
Gabriel Kuriata
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Gabriel is a professional writer with more than a decade of experience in bringing advanced b2b tech solutions closer to the people - with content in all forms, shapes and sizes.
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